Seat Belt Evidence Allowed: Says the Texas Supreme CourtSeat Belt Evidence Allowed: Says the Texas Supreme CourtSeat Belt Evidence Allowed: Says the Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Supreme Court has recently clarified the seat-belt admissibility and the proportionate-responsibility law by allowing admission of evidence that a plaintiff was not using a seatbelt in a personal injury lawsuit. The Court gave this landmark ruling in Nabors Well Service, Ltd v. Romero, 58 Tex. Sup. J. 347 (Feb. 13, 2015), by overturning a 40-year precedent that made evidence of not wearing a seat belt inadmissible in determining blame for injuries in a collision.

In the underlying lawsuit, a Nabors transport truck collided with a Chevrolet Suburban, causing the car to tumble off the highway, killing the driver and injuring two other adults and five children. The two families in the car sued Nabors, and during the trial, the company attempted to offer an expert testimony from a biochemical engineer alleging that seven of the car’s eight occupants were not wearing a seat belt, that five of those seven were thrown from the vehicle, and that they were injured because they were unbelted. The trial court excluded the testimony, partly following the precedent set in the 1974 ruling of Texas Supreme Court where the jury held the Nabors at fault and awarded compensation in favor of the plaintiff. The same was upheld by the Texas Court of Appeals. In 1974, the court had reasoned that not wearing a seatbelt might exacerbate plaintiff’s injuries but it would not be a cause of the accident.

However, the Court has currently opined that a lot of things have changed over the period of 40 years causing it to overrule the set precedent. One of such reasons being that the State no longer has a contributory-negligence system, under which a plaintiff could be absolutely barred from recovery if they were even the slightest degree negligent. It now has a system of comparative negligence, with a plaintiff’s recovery merely reduced by the percentage of his/her own fault unless that fault exceeds 50%. Second, the proportionate-responsibility law mandates that a distinction does not exist between negligence based on conduct that causes an accident and that which causes injury. Consequently, the jury is allowed to hear the evidence of failure to wear seatbelts causing injury and assign proportionate responsibility to the plaintiff if the non-use caused or contributed to cause the plaintiff’s injuries.

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